Diwali 2017 at Christchurch City Libraries

To celebrate Diwali 2017 Christchurch City Libraries will be holding a variety of events including live performances, story times and craft making sessions.

What is Diwali?

Diwali or dīpāvali, the festival of lights, is traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs with the rising of the new moon at the end of the month, Ashvin. However, in a country as diverse as India, where people from many different faiths live side by side, the festival is not limited to one particular faith for it represents the victory of light over darkness and the triumph of wisdom over ignorance. Throughout cities and villages the darkness will be symbolically turned back. Clay lamps (diya) will be lit in homes and shops, fireworks will be released into the sky and the streets will be filled with music.

Diwali display at Linwood Library 2016.

Dance performances

We have two local dance groups performing on Saturday 14 October at three different library venues.

Revathi Performing Arts will perform a puṣpāñjali (welcoming dance) set to Carnatic (Southern Indian) music at:

Hornby Library                                               11.30 am to 11.45 am

Te Hapua Halswell Centre                              1.30 pm to 1.45 pm

Christchurch Hindi Class performing group will showcase a traditional dance at:

Linwood Library                                              1pm to 2pm.

Rāmāyaṇa

Diwali is also closely associated with one of the great epics of India, the Rāmāyaṇa. The focus of the epic is the journey of Prince Rāma, an avatar (incarnation) of the god, Viṣṇu, to rescue his wife, princess Sītā, who was abducted by Rāvaṇa, the king of rākṣasas (demons). Aided by an army of monkeys and bears, led by the monkey general, Hanumān, Rāma laid siege to the island kingdom of Lanka and eventually defeated Rāvaṇa. Returning to their kingdom of Ayodhyā, Rāma and Sītā were greeted by people who lined their route with lamps to welcome them back. The lighting of lamps at Diwali is said to represent the lights guiding the couple back to their kingdom.

The Rāmāyaṇa will feature in our Super Saturday Storytime at Upper Riccarton Library on Saturday 21 October.

Lighting candles and clay lamps during Diwali night. Wikimedia Commons.

Find out more

  • See our Diwali programme list for further Diwali related events at our libraries.
  • Find resources about Diwali in our collection.
  • Watch a short film about the Rāmāyaṇa.

Beth El Synagogue and the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation

A decision had been made.

It was time for Hyam Edward Nathan to give up his seat.

The members of Christchurch’s Jewish community, who arrived at the New Year service on 13 September 1882, knew to expect trouble when they saw that Nathan was already sitting in his self-appointed seat, B29.

The issue of Nathan assigning himself this seat had been raised at a recent meeting of the officers of the synagogue. Nathan, who had been present at the meeting, challenged the others to force him to give up his seat.

The seating of the synagogue, which opened only a year earlier, had been allocated by subscription, with the prime seats in sections A and B costing 3 shillings and 2 shillings a week. Seating in the C section was not allotted, due to the low number of applicants, and despite the free seating available, Nathan had taken it upon himself to sit in the lowest ranking seat of section B. Yet his free occupation of B29 had not gone unnoticed. Since 13 September was a holiday, it was important for the proper seat allocation to be followed, as B29 had been assigned to another member of the congregation.

Charles Louisson, the synagogue treasuer, took it upon himself to deal with the stubborn Nathan. After the ordinary services had finished, he approached Nathan and quietly pointed out that the seat had been reserved. Nathan was then ordered to vacate the seat by Maurice Harris, the synagogue president. Realising the matter would not be so easily settled, Constable Costin was summoned but upon arriving the policeman refused to become involved. Nathan then boldly stated he would not leave unless he was carried out. In response, Harris grabbed Nathan by the collar and with the assistance of Louisson, removed him from the seat and from the synagogue altogether.

Nathan would later take the matter to court, alleging that Harris and Louisson had assaulted him. However, the judge ruled in favour of the latter, showing that as they were officers of the synagogue, and since Nathan had no legal right to the seat, he had been in the wrong.

Beth El Synagogue, Christchurch [1906]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0008

The Canterbury Hebrew Congregation

The founding a Jewish congregation in Christchurch, the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation, was first initiated in 1864, following a meeting held on 12 January at the High Street offices of auctioneer, Louis Edward Nathan (not to be confused with Hyam). Attending was Hyam Marks, Maurice Harris, E. Phillips, Marcus Sandstein, David Davis, Henry Moss, and S.M. Solomon. Gifted a plot of land on Gloucester Street by the government, the congregation built its first synagogue in 1864. To ensure the orthodoxy of their practice, traditional ritual items were sourced from various locations including a shofar (horn), ketubah (prenuptial agreement), and a mezuzah (prayers affixed to a door) from Melbourne, a Sefer Torah (scroll of Jewish law) from London, a lulav (enclosed date palm fronds) and matzah (unleavened bread) from Sydney, and an ethrog (citrus fruit) from the Holy Land.

While there were around thirty five prominent Jewish families in Christchurch at this time, many would soon depart for the West Coast to open businesses on the goldfields.

With the conclusion of the gold rush in 1870, many of these families returned to Christchurch. While majority of the early Jewish settlers in Christchurch were English Jews or Jews from Europe, they would soon appoint Isaac Zachariah, a Sephardic Jew from Baghdad, as their rabbi. Trained in Jerusalem, Zachariah had also served the Sassoon family in Bombay, India as a shohet (ritual butcher). After his time in India, he settled in Ballarat, Australia, before relocating to the Hokitika goldfields.

The wedding of Mr L P Hayman of Sydney to Mrs Lillie Marks, third daughter of Mr Maurice Harris of Christchurch at Beth El Synagogue, Gloucester Street, Christchurch [15 Oct. 1901]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0087
Due to his eclectic background, Zachariah could speak not only Hebrew but Arabic, Hindi, and forms of Aramaic. He was often called upon to translate at court trials involving individuals who spoke the languages in which he was fluent. Despite adhering firmly to his own customs and traditional forms of dress, Zachariah was tolerant of other faiths, and often engaged with members of the Anglican community. He also oversaw the establishment of the Christchurch branch of the Anglo-Jewish Association, an organisation dedicated to promoting the rights of Jewish people in regions outside of the British Empire.

Although a traditionalist, Zachariah possessed a rebellious streak, and often clashed with the congregation’s presiding committee. He was known for disregarding their orders, and in one case, he pre-emptively foiled their plans to export frozen kosher meat by writing to the Chief Rabbi in England to receive confirmation that frozen meat could not be considered kosher.

Beth El Synagogue

It was during Zachariah’s tenure that the new synagogue, Beth El, was built to replace the original wooden synagogue. Designed by Thomas Stoddart Lambert, the foundation stone was laid on 8 February 1881, whereupon it was sprinkled with corn, wine, oil and herbs. The synagogue was officially consecrated on 15 November 1881. Presided over by Zachariah, the ceremony was also attended by Anglican officials, some of whom had learned Hebrew from Zachariah.

Landau carriages arrive with the wedding party at Beth El Synagogue, Christchurch [1901] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0079
The committee’s relationship with Zachariah deteriorated until he was eventually forced to resign. In 1889 he was replaced by Adolf Treitel Chodowski. Originally from Posen in Prussia, Chodowski had studied in Berlin before being admitted to the Jews’ College in London. Despite his popularity, the congregation could not afford to maintain his salary and he was forced to take up another position in Brisbane in 1894. The committee’s inability to provide a professional rabbi in the years that followed the departure of Chodowski eventually led them to allow Zachariah to return to the position. He would continue to serve the Jewish community in Christchurch until his death in 1906. He was buried in the Jewish section of Linwood Cemetery.

The Beth El synagogue would remain an iconic feature of Gloucester Street until it was demolished in 1987. In the following year a new synagogue was consecrated at 406 Durham Street. Although it suffered damage in the Canterbury earthquakes, it was repaired and reopened in 2013, where it continues to offer services every Shabbat.

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Revathi Performing Arts: Mayuram – Bharatanatyam in Christchurch

Ever wanted to know more about classical Indian dance? Rema and Simon explain some of the philosophy and history behind Bharatanatyam ahead of a performance by local group Revathi Performing Arts.

Revathi Performing Arts

The purpose of Revathi Performing Arts is to encourage people to know that these dance routines can be practiced as an exercise for body conditioning, mental alertness, and building stamina. People from all walks of life come to learn and share the experience of being part of this classical Indian dance movement. Initially their performances, held at the end of the year, were largely for family and friends, in order to show case developing talent. Their first public performance was held in 2015. Their upcoming performance Mayuram – which celebrates Murugan (also known as Kārttikēya), the son of the Hindu god Śiva and his wife, Parvati – takes place on 5 August.

Dancing for the gods: the South Indian dance tradition

Bharatanatyam is one of the Indian classical and traditional dance forms from South India. It has its origins in sadir, the traditional dances performed by devadasis, young women who were ceremoniously married to the deity of a temple to which they had been dedicated as children. Such was the respect in which devadasis were held that kings were known to gift them grants of land. Two classical dramatists from the 2nd century have been credited with compiling the theory behind the dance form; Nandikeśvara, who wrote Abhinaya Darpaṇa (Mirror of Gestures), and Bharata Muni, who wrote Nāṭyaśāstra (Treatise on Dramatic Art).

Members of Revathi Performing Arts by JK Images. Image supplied by Uma Varma.

Underlying these works was the concept of rasa, that dance should be means for the individual to transport themselves into a spiritual realm. This illustrative performance is portrayed by a dancer with excellent footwork, impressive gestures and facial expressions accompanied by song. A Bharatanatyam performance includes synchronized movement of eyes, neck, hands (mudras) and feet to depict various moods and expressions. The dancer must remember the whole song, and the associated rhythmic steps and moves, which need a higher level of concentration and coordination.

There are three forms of dance:

Nritta – Dance which is purely without expressions or emotion.

Nritya – Dance where emotion and expressions are conveyed through the use of hasta mudras (hand gestures, of which there can be up to fifty-five) and abhinaya (facial expressions).

Natyam – Dance which is included into a dramatic performance.

Decline and revival

The classical dances of the devadasis were brought by performers to the Thanjavur court in South India. Here, many artists, dramatists and musicians vied for the patronage of the kings. Among such dramatists to receive this patronage were the Thanjavur Quartet, four brothers who synthesised the various sadir dances in the early 19th century. However, the annexation of former South Indian kingdoms by the British in the latter half of the 19th century led to a loss of patronage for many of these dancers and dramatists.

Further damage was done to the dance tradition by Victorian notions of morality, which were being spread by missionaries. This colonial criticism was adopted by some prominent Indians who had received a Western education and led to the tradition losing its social acceptability. The criticism continued into the 1930s, with social reformer and women’s rights activist, Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy (1886-1968) launching a campaign against it. However, she was countered by Krishna E. Iyer (1897-1968), a lawyer, artist and political activist, who recognised the important role India’s dance traditions played in the movement to reassert Indian culture and independence. He argued against the colonial misinterpretations of the devadasi tradition and is often credited with forming the name by which the dance tradition is now known, Bharatanatyam.

Iyer was aided in his formulation of Bharatanatyam by Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904-1986), a young Brahmin who had rebelled against her upbringing by not only learning Western forms of dance, but also by marrying an Englishman. In 1935, she attended a performance of a form of dance known as Pandanallur, which has been formulated by the teacher Meenakshisundaram Pillai (1869–1964), who was himself a descendant of one of the brothers from the Thanjavur Quartet. From Pillai, Rukmini learned the forms of dance which had once been performed in the Thanjavur court, and later that year she performed at the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of the Theosophical Society. In the following year, she established the Kalakshetra Foundation, an organisation dedicated to the revival of Bharatanatyam and its worldwide propagation.

If you wish to experience this dance, which has its origins in the temples and royal courts of South India, then come to Mayuram, from 7pm to 9pm at Cashmere High School Performing Arts Centre. For tickets and details please contact info@revathi.ac.nz

Rema (and Simon)

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Ōnuku Church, 1940: Picturing Canterbury

Ōnuku Church, 1940. Kete Christchurch. 1940_Onuku. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Do you have any further photographs of Ōnuku Church? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.

Salman Rushdie: Storytelling as Scheherazade

I love reading Salman Rushdie. He weaves the most colourful and beautiful stories, with a little magic shining through like gold threads. Transporting the reader to different cultures, countries and times, his stories often address current issues through the medium of fantasy.

Cover of Two years eight months and twenty eight nightsTwo Years Eight Months & Twenty Eight Nights is a fabulous tale of a War of the Worlds. If you can do the maths, this adds up to 1,001 nights in the Arabian Nights legends. The gates between  Earth and Peristan (Fairyland) have reopened after thousands of years. Mischievous Jinn (Genies as we know them) are messing with human lives in terrible ways, in order to subjugate humans, or ultimately destroy us.

Rushdie adopts the role of Scheherazade, unfolding many stories like the Chinese box sent to poison the King of Qaf. Dark Jinn, creatures of fire, visit curses on mankind – rising curses to make people float above the atmosphere, crushing curses to kill us with gravity, infectious diseases and open attacks.

But Humankind have someone on their side. The Princess of Peristan, Aasmaan Peri; Skyfairy the Lightning Princess. Naming herself Dunia (The World), she fell in love with a human; the philosopher Ibn Rushd, the last time the gates were open. Dunia becomes mother to a race of humans who are part Jinn and part human, with latent powers waiting to be whispered into action to save the human race.

Ibn Rushd was a philosopher in ancient times. He really did have a feud with Ghazali of Iran (a champion of Islam). Ibn Rushd, an Aristotelian rationalist, believed in a kinder God and a less fanatical faith. Salman Rushdie’s father changed the family name to Rushdie to align himself with Rushd and his arguments against Islamic literal interpretation of the Koran.

This is the first book of Rushdie’s that I have really noticed an undercurrent of parable, between the fantasy story and the world of today. Rushdie’s narrator writes from a future Earth a thousand years after this historic battle: without religion, discrimination and war; making clear that the world has no use for “murderous gangs of ignoramuses (whose aim) is “forbidding things.”

Further reading

Podcast – Organ harvesting

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from New Zealand’s only specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

This episode discusses:

  • Stats on organ transplants in China; why are we talking about organ harvesting now when it has been going on for decades?
  • Differences between organ harvesting practices in China and elsewhere; lack of will from national governments to act; recent roundtable at New Zealand Parliament; need to apply pressure to medical and transplant professionals
  • Current action; possible deterrents; public scepticism
  • Actions worldwide; reasons why people might find it difficult to engage; terminology: ‘organ harvesting’ vs ‘organ pillaging’ vs ‘organ executions’

The panel for this show includes host Sally Carlton, David Kilgour (former Canadian MP who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for investigating organ harvesting crimes in China), undercover journalist for book ‘The Slaughter’ Jaya Mangalam Gibson, and Robin Palmer (previously a specialist prosecutor of international organ harvesting operations and Professor, School of Law, University of Canterbury).

Transcript of the audio file

Websites mentioned in the show

Find out more in our collection

Cover of The slaughter Cover of Bloody harvest

More about Speak up – Kōrerotia

The show is also available on the following platforms:

Is there Life After Pi?

Life of Pi
Life of Pi

Author Yann Martel could be forgiven for wondering if there would be life after Pi, given the smash success of his book Life of Pi.

Almost everyone loved Life of Pi – it has even been made into a blockbuster film. I say almost everyone, as truth be told, I was not that much of a fan. And a shared rite of passage road trip with my husband (watching the film of the book on a tiny screen on a bus jolting from Pnomh Penh to Siem Riep in Cambodia) didn’t do it any favours either. It was a trip as far removed from cool waters and tigers as it was possible to be. To this day there are small pockets of Cambodian dust nestled in my luggage. I can picture us still, sitting jammed into seats designed for daintier people, with our individual thought bubbles whimpering “We should have flown. We should have flown”.

The High Mountains of Portugal
Life After Pi

So I was ready,  in a clean-slate kind of way, for Martel’s next offering The High Mountains of Portugal. Devoid of tigers, small boats and large oceans, Martel has instead turned his prodigious story-telling talents to include three interlocking tales, all set in Portugal and all involving love, loss and the meaning of life. It is at one and the same time an intricate, yet mesmerising read. If I do not allow myself to become too distracted by certain wierdnesses (take backward walking, the Jesus Christ/Agatha Christie connection and the Iberian Rhinoceros for example), I would sum it up as follows:

  • In any life, there will be some bad times of loss and heartbreak
  • You will need to be able to ask for help
  • You will need to be specific with your requests for said help
  • Help will also come from unexpected quarters
  • Always read the instruction manual carefully
  • A lot of your problems you will have brought upon yourself
  • While you yourself are hurting, you are still capable of inflicting great harm on others

One hundred years of solitude

It is such a rare read, that in the end you may find yourself falling back on prior reading connections to make any sense of it all. It reminded me of the magical realism of 100 Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and the poem Kindness by my favourite poet Naomi Shahib Nye. But mostly what it did not remind me of was the author’s previous novel, Life of Pi.

And one final point – nowadays we are all keen to trumpet what great films certain books would make. I can tell you with absolute certainty that I do not believe The High Mountains of Portugal will ever be made into a film.

You are going to have to read it!

Three sides to every story

9780751563375They always say there are two sides to a story, but in this case there are three.

In 1987 Betty Mahmoody published her famous bestseller Not Without My Daughter, the story of her life as a prisoner of a violent man and an alien culture and her subsequent escape.

Recently her daughter has published her own book My Name is Mahtob telling what is billed as the ‘whole story’ of imprisonment, escape and her life after fleeing Iran.

Not to be outdone,  the ex-husband has now published his side of the story, Lost Without My Daughter.

Lost Without My Daughter is a cultural and political history of Iran, from the revolution to the present day. Perhaps more than anything, it is an exercise in truth, the last-ditch attempt of a father desperate to reach his daughter, to let her know that he is not the monster he has been portrayed to be.

So read all three and come to your own conclusions.

Headscarves and hymens: Why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution

Mona Eltahawy by Personaldemocracy. cc by-sa 2.0

Over the years I’ve had ambivalent feelings toward feminism.

However, this has changed markedly as I’ve encountered the work of people like Egyptian-American journalist and feminist commentator Mona Eltahawy, whose book Headscarves and Hymens states the case for “why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution”…and arguably a reformation.

This book came up on my radar because some argue it’s a key feminist work! And such works are important because they bring feminist issues to the forefront of the simple male mind, making me much more sympathetic toward the feminist movement and forgiving feminism’s sins against me…

After all, as a child, I blamed feminism for mother forbidding me to play with the muscular toy figurine G.I Joe, the plastic embodiment of the American military industrial complex.

Mother didn’t want me corrupted by a perverted depiction of masculinity, which promoted jingoistic American nationalism and war.

However, as I’ve grown older, and gotten (somewhat) educated, I came to realize that feminism is critical to the evolution of civilisation…

For most of history, the “fairer sex” has been subjugated by wicked men like G.I Joe, who deprive women of their civil liberties and sit on the couch in their horrible underwear, with their feet on the Ikea coffee table.

Which bring’s my trivial childhood recollections to an end, because sadly, the political, economic and social circumstances many women endure the world over are harsh and lamentable… such as those depicted in this read…

Headscarves and HymensIn this book, Eltahawy argues that throughout most of the Middle East, women experience on-going political, economic and social subjugation. She claims this is a region which doesn’t uphold plurality, individuality, autonomy and tolerance: the principles which underpin Women’s Rights in various countries.

There is a catalogue of personal experiences and statistics which Eltahawy refers to in order to buttress her impassioned claims.

Her travels into Egypt’s social and political cocktail of unrest gave her a multitude of insights into what many female citizens face there: simply walking through public spaces and riding trains means enduring a gauntlet of ungoverned, regular and almost casual sexual harassment. Women have no recourse against this because the Egyptian state doesn’t seem to care about this sexually violent culture.

Further to this, Eltahawy was arbitrarily imprisoned, sexually assaulted and beaten by Egyptian police after she partook in protests there.

Eltahawy argues thousands of women share these kinds of experiences throughout the entire Middle East every day.

She details how women have little economic and legal mobility in the region. Custody disputes over children, domestic violence, divorce and succession etc are regulated and determined by laws derived from archaic religious statutes, which favour men and almost completely deprive women of any control over family or assets.

Even basic privileges are denied, such as driving, participation in sports, wearing make up (because it “prompts sexual harassment’), and travelling alone without a male family member. Much of which is overseen by religious police throughout the region.

Elathawy argues this totalitarianism is the result of ultra-conservative Wahhabist and Sunni Islamic doctrines which are espoused throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa.

Critics have argued that her views are analytically shallow – that the Middle East is not culturally and theologically homogeneous, and that she posits mono-causal explanations that are borne out of her own Western-centricity which is covered by a misguided feminist veil.

However, that being said, a fact check on Pew, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International websites seem to support her claims.

In any case, this book has shone a light on my own white, male privilege, reminding me that feminism is a critical movement for humankind, and not just a force which wants to send young boys to school in Roman sandals.

Have a read and see what you think – of course your amazing Christchurch City Libraries network has copies you can borrow.

Our blog is a forum for public debate and as such we welcome your comments and feedback on our posts. Opinions expressed in posts and in the comments are not necessarily those of the organisation. 

Happy Hanukkah!

“Monica, Monica, have a happy Hanukkah!” I’m a tad ashamed to say that, yes, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word Hanukkah is Phoebe’s holiday song in Friends.  I suspect that I may not be alone in my limited awareness…

Beth El Synagogue, Christchurch [1901]
Beth El Synagogue, Christchurch [1901], CCLPhotoCD 6, IMG0079
Yet Hanukkah is one of the most popular Jewish religious holidays and people with Jewish heritage have played an important role in New Zealand since the first days of European settlement.

As the book Jewish Lives in New Zealand points out, Auckland alone has had five Jewish mayors. New Zealand’s first woman doctor, Emily Siedeberg, and first woman lawyer, Ethel Benjamin, were both Jewish.  Similarly, Jewish families, like the Keesings, de Beers, Ashers, and Hallensteins, were and are still prominent in the business community.

So what is Hanukkah? Traditionally it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in 165 BCE, when, after a three-year struggle led by Judah Maccabee, the Jews in Judea defeated Antiochus IV, the Seleucid king who had invaded Judea.

The celebrations last 8 days and involve lighting candles each night in the menorah, a special eight-branched candelabrum. Scriptures are read each day and a special hymn is sung.

Cover of Jewish Holidays CookbookAnd what would  a celebration be without special food? Potato pancakes (latkes), doughnuts, and other treats fried in oil take the starring role at Hanukkah. Children receive presents and gifts of money (Hanukkah gelt), which may be the real thing or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.

Today is the last day of Hanukkah for 2015, so Happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating!

If you do observe Hanukkah, why not share some of your family’s traditions?